Technology use carries with it myriad potential consequences—among them cyberbullying, sleep deprivation, poor posture, back and neck pain, sedentary behaviours, obesity, loneliness, diminished eyesight, anxiety, depression, body image disturbance, and addiction. All of these are changing children in elemental ways, interrupting rudimental biological drives to connect, to become independent, even to procreate.
Tech executives were the first to recognize the problem more than a decade ago. Shortly after the iPad’s 2010 release, Apple founder Steve Jobs was asked by The New York Times what his children thought of the new device. Jobs told reporter Nick Bilton that they hadn’t used it, that he and his wife “limit how much technology the kids use at home.” Bilton was so astonished that he went on to interview a series of Silicon Valley executives—most of whom, he discovered, either barred or strictly limited their kids’ access to tech. “Tech CEOs,” Bilton concluded, “seem to know something that the rest of us don’t.” Apple CEO Tim Cook recently said that he banned his nephew from social media. Microsoft founder Bill Gates refused to let his kids have smartphones until they were fourteen. His wife, Melinda, now says that she wishes they’d waited longer.
Just how did our children become slaves to the devices that were supposed to free us, to connect us, to give us more time to experience life and the people we love? As it turns out, by design. At some point the goal of a lot of technology companies seemed to stop being about connecting people. It became a race for who could come up with the most enticing notification, the most ingenious way of getting us to check our phones again and again.
This is the driving force behind technology’s “attention economy”: that free app or social network or search engine that appears to have been created to help you is actually meant to capture your data, which can then be packaged and sold to somebody else. This is now a trillion-dollar-a-year industry. The data it gleans recently surpassed oil in value, becoming the most valuable asset on earth.
The human cost of all this is enormous. Your kids’ devices are stealing their time, devouring years of their lives in little parcels. Every hour they spend in front of a screen is an hour they could have spent running about and interacting with kids their age or observing and learning from what exists around them—real-world interactions that are critical to healthy physical and social development.
Perhaps more worryingly, they’re not necessarily living their lives the way they want to. For if they’re not aware of how tech is influencing them, they risk allowing tech to manage their behaviour. It’s important to consider: are they using technology or is technology using them?
How to Schedule Tech Time
The most common question I receive from parents is “How much screen time is okay for my child?” I wish I could provide a specific answer, but the truth is, every child, every family, and every situation is different. When it comes to tech, we must be firm about preventing harm and be flexible with daily life. These are my guidelines:
- Screen time for children younger than two isn’t recommended at all.
- For children aged two to five, screen time should be limited to less than one hour per day. But remember, it’s best to delay tech time as long as possible, so if you can avoid it at this stage, that’s still best.
For all other age groups, schedule purposeful tech use around life activities instead of scheduling life around tech. This will set kids up to prioritize real-life activities as they get older and to understand the role tech should play in their day-to-day lives:
- Take a sheet of lined paper.
- Block off twenty-four lines. These will represent the twenty-four hours in a day.
- Block off the hours needed for sleep, hygiene, eating, chores, exercise, relationships, school, homework (may require tech), and non-tech play. You may also need time for other important activities your family may value, such as going to church/temple, service work, and caring for pets.
- The time leftover can be part of their tech time, but it doesn’t have to be.
This is an excerpt from The Tech Solution – Creating Healthy Habits for Kids Growing Up In A Digital World by Shimi Kang.
DR. G. SHIMI KANG is an award-winning, Harvard-trained psychiatrist, researcher, media expert, bestselling author, and speaker. She is the former Medical Director for Child and Youth Mental Health for Vancouver community, a Clinical Associate Professor at the University of British Columbia, and the founder of the Provincial Youth Concurrent Disorders Program at BC Children’s Hospital. Over her years of work across North America, Europe, and Asia Dr. Kang has helped thousands of children, teens, and adults move towards lives of greater passion, purpose, and joy. She has received six international awards including the American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry Research Award. Dr. Kang is most proud of receiving the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal for her years of outstanding community service and of being the mother of three awesome but exhausting children.